Last week, we got an invitation to a party at Yakir’s school for the entire second grade. They finished one of the five books of the Torah and invited the parents to a “short” (two and a half hour! eeek) party at the school. As the date approached, Yakir came home each day mumbling something about not wanting to be in the dance. “It hurts,” he’d say. “What hurts?” I’d inquire, not quite following what the heck he was talking about (how does a dance hurt?). “My tummy hurts when we rehearse and we rehearse for sooooo many hours, Mommy.”
And then the moment of truth arrived when he asked, “Can’t I just skip it, Mommy.”
Oh parenting moments, how I love you.
So, on the one hand we’ve got a child who says he doesn’t want to go to school on Friday and sit through the two plus hour program. That sounds like a home run for this mom who’s juggling it all while her husband is away.
But on the other hand, says the angel on my other shoulder, he’s supposed to be there, right? His whole class will be there – the entire grade will be there. And shouldn’t he be part of it?
I decided that it was important that we go – but did he have to do everything they were doing? This is one of those moments when you wish there were a guidebook to raising kids. How do we navigate all of these nuanced, intricate and tricky options?
Thursday, his teacher wrote a note about how Yakir refused to practice and did I know what was going on; and that’s when I realized it had come to a head and he really didn’t want to be part of the dance. After speaking with him, I got Yakir to agree that we would go to the celebration but that he didn’t have to do anything that he didn’t want to do while there. Fair enough?
And that’s what we did. When the celebration started, they had all of the kids lining up for a dance. The teacher was smart enough to grab Yakir from my lap and ask him if he would help out. Brilliant. So he was in charge of holding a prop while the other kids danced.
When the dance ended, he came running back to my lap and he sat with me through the next act.
Then he said, “Mommy, there’s more coming.”
Seeing an opportunity (but assuming he wouldn’t take it), I said, “Do you want to be part of the more?”
“Yeah!” He said, surprising us both, and jumping out of my lap to join the group and to finish off the performance with them.
I was so happy that I had asked, because I don’t think he would have thought of joining in the middle without my question. And I was so happy that he felt comfortable enough to join in after they had already started.
I had my chance to shed a few tears (I always cry at my kids’ performances…go figure) and he had the chance to decide for himself what made him comfortable.
It’s very hard, as parents, to decide when to let a child select not to participate. I guess it comes down to knowing your own kid and his needs. I didn’t think it would be the right choice to allow him to stay home completely from the day. He finished the section of the Torah just as all of the other kids did, and he should be there to celebrate his accomplishment. But to force him to perform? That seemed unnecessary, and I’m glad that I allowed him to the space to decide for himself when to sit out and when to participate.
I remember, as a new first-time mom, being mortified when Matan didn’t follow the program of expectations. We were at a Mommy and Me class in Potomac, and while all of the other toddlers sat with their moms, Matan charged out of the room to check out the basketball court and to watch the teenagers play (visions of years to come). Every time that I dragged him back to circle time, he escaped to gym time. I called my father-in-law after to see what I was doing wrong and he laughed and said, “Why were all of those other kids sitting there so obediently?”
It was a great lesson for me. This wasn’t to say that I shouldn’t bother bringing him to circle time anymore; rather that I should accept that 90% of circle time would be spent checking out the basketball scene rather than the toddler scene.
These days, after years and years of trial and error, I no longer worry if my kid refuses to march to everyone else’s drum. I’d like for him to at least be in the room where the activity is happening (oh man when will I get to be in the room where it happened?? Get it, Hamilton fans?), but if he’s writing his own story while everyone listens to the script that’s offered to them – I can live with that.
Particularly because it’s usually a darn cute script.